GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With exceptional goaltenders suiting up for both the Coyotes and Predators in what's expected to be a defensively oriented Western Conference semifinals, the thought heading into the series was that one team would have to find the difference somewhere else. That hasn't changed after one game, and it appears the Coyotes' now-healthy top line could be it.
The Coyotes got two goals from that first line of Martin Hanzal, Radim Vrbata and Ray Whitney in Game 1 Friday night and will be counting on sustained contribution from the trio the rest of the way.
"We talk about how everybody has to have an impact," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said Saturday. "But if you go on track record or what we expect from (the top line), the offense and points they created during the season, that's a big factor for us.
"To see them contribute and see them coming up with a couple big goals for us, that's moving in the right direction."
Friday's game was essentially just the second the group has played together this postseason. Hanzal missed nearly four full games during the quarterfinals after suffering a lower-body injury early in Game 2, while Vrbata played just three shifts in Game 1 of the series with Chicago before leaving with an undisclosed injury, although he played through any lingering effects. Only Game 6 on Monday saw all three linemates on the ice for a whole game.
With Hanzal and Vrbata back to full speed, or at least close to it, the group knows it can be the difference.
"First round, we didnt play too many games together," Vrbata said following Saturday's practice at Jobing.com Arena. "This is a new start, a new round. We dont look at the Chicago series anymore. We just look at what we can do now, which is hopefully stay healthy and play together the whole series."
It was Whitney's overtime goal that gave the Coyotes a 1-0 series lead Friday night, but it came off an assist from Hanzal, who won a key face-off in the Nashville zone. The play was a perfect example of the dynamic that emerges when the line is healthy and intact.
"I think it's just the chemistry between us," Hanzal said. "We've been playing pretty much three years together, almost. They have great skill, they are smart players, and I'm just trying to find room for them."
Vrbata looked more like himself Friday as well, and the rest between series almost certainly helped get him to a better place health-wise. Coyotes general manager Don Maloney called out the top line before the series began, and Vrbata responded with his first goal of the playoffs in the first period, on an assist from Whitney.
Vrbata said Friday's game was a good start for the line, but he wants to see the group get more chances and knows they need to take their production to yet another level. While all three linemates and the rest of the team stress contribution from top to bottom, it's not lost on anyone that it starts with Vrbata, Hanzal and Whitney.
"Theyre vital for us," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "Having Marty back in there makes a big difference up the middle. He's such a big man for us and plays such a key role. That was huge for us to have him, and hopefully we can kind of build on that for them and have other people step up."
With a point each Friday, Hanzal and Vrbata matched their point totals from the first round -- one. Whitney, with two points in the game, was just one shy of his first-round contribution, and combined the group is already just one shy of their total from the first six games.
There's little disagreement that Friday's game was a good start for the reunited line, but the three forwards -- along Tippett -- were disappointed with their performance in the third period and overtime, a stretch in which the Coyotes managed just seven shots to the Predators' 25. In order to take some pressure of Smith in the net, the whole team will have to be better throughout, and again, that starts with the front line.
"I think we had a pretty good first two periods," Hanzal said. "We've got to keep improving, because we can still be better."
Added Tippett: "Coming out of the last series, that last game they were just alright. They were a little better last night. I think there's still another level in their game."
Doan, Smith, Hanzal and Lauri Korpikoski all sat out Saturday's practice, though there was no indication any of it was related to a new injury. Hanzal may still be working back to full strength after missing most of the first round, and Korpikoski (upper-body injury) may still be aching a bit after missing two games in the first round, but there was no indication Saturday that any of the players were absent from the ice for anything other than a little rest.